At the sound of the first explosion inside Belgium’s Zaventem Airport Tuesday morning, three Quinnipiac University students from Massachusetts didn’t know what to think.
But when the second blast erupted, sending large flames and smoke into the air, Cate Duffy, Lauren Cleary, and Monica Hall instinctively began to flee.
“It was chaos, and we just started running, and got out and got as far away as possible,” Duffy, a 19-year-old student from Natick, recalled in a telephone interview from Brussels.
The terrorist attacks, which killed at least 34 people and left more than 230 wounded, resonated deeply in New England, as native Belgians anxiously called home to make sure their loved ones were safe.
The Quinnipiac students, who escaped the airport unharmed, were purchasing plane tickets to London and readying their luggage when the bombs detonated.
“Everyone was running in all directions. It was so crazy. It was like nothing I have ever experienced in my life,” said Cleary, who is from Abington. “We ran around in circles trying to figure out which door to get out of, and once we got out we just sprinted.” The students are studying in Cork, Ireland, this semester.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, which came days after officials in Belgium arrested Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, which killed 130 people.
“It is hard to even fathom what happened and why,” said Patrick Cornelissen, New England’s honorary consul for Belgium.
Cornelissen, who became the honorary consul last year, is the general manager at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, where the local consulate has its office.
Last Friday, he flew to Belgium for his mother’s funeral, walking through the Zaventem Airport just days before the twin blasts left a wake of shattered glass and debris.
“This day will forever be on the minds of all of us and will stay with us each time we travel,” Cornelissen wrote in an e-mail.
“We all stand united in our feelings and condemn with the most powerful voice these senseless attacks on our values of democracy and freedom.”
Danny Haelewaters, a biology student in a doctoral program at Harvard University, was in Belgium to give a talk at the Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences, but the event was cancelled after Brussels was locked down and the terror alert was raised to its highest level.
Haelewaters, a Belgian citizen, lives in Cambridge with his wife. He said he initially planned to fly home Wednesday but is now scheduled to return Thursday.
“This is ‘our’ 9/11,” Haelewaters wrote in an e-mail. “My thoughts are with the innocent people who died or were injured.”
Haelewaters spent part of the day at a coffee house in Ghent, where many people discussed the attacks in Brussels, 35 miles to the east.
“I did not have the feeling people were staying inside or afraid. There were many people on the streets in Ghent as usual,” he wrote.
“I hope the Belgian people are not getting afraid too much or for too long, because that is the kind of environment the terrorists want.”
Six employees of Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, arrived at the airport about five minutes after the explosion, said company spokesman Jeff Pillet-Shore.
Founder Rob Tod and brewmaster Jason Perkins were among the staff members who narrowly escaped the bombings.
No one in the Allagash group was injured, Pillet-Shore said.
“Now, our thoughts are with the people of Brussels and Belgium. This is a very sad day for a city and country that means so much to us,” Pillet-Shore wrote in an e-mail.
In Shrewsbury, Maribeth Lynch spent much of the day trying to get her two children back to the United States.
Brian Boisvert, 23, and Mariah Boisvert, 20, were at the airport for a layover when the attack occurred, Lynch said.
The siblings had just flown into Brussels from Ghana, where they were visiting their cousin.
Brian and Mariah were evacuated from the airport and are now staying in a hotel in Leuven, about 17 miles outside of Brussels, Lynch said.
They are scheduled to take a train Wednesday to Amsterdam and fly home from there.
“We just want to get them home,” Lynch said.
Thomas Grevesse, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard from Belgium, said he spent Tuesday morning trying to contact everyone he knows in Brussels.
“It’s hard to be away from your family and your country when this kind of stuff happens,” Grevesse said.